Talking/Listening: Seminars and Conferences
What makes studying at Sarah Lawrence different? Some might say it’s the complex play of talking and listening, the give-and-take of individuals conversing rather than professors lecturing. Put your ear to the door of an SLC classroom: You won’t hear a lone voice underscored by the sounds of pens moving across pads, but multiple voices moving through phases of analysis, agreement and disagreement. Look at the door of a faculty office: You won’t see a brief smattering of office hours, but a schedule full to overflowing with the one-on-one conferences that are the lifeblood of Sarah Lawrence.
Behind those doors, student and teacher meet alone together. The student brings work, the faculty member responds; some days the dialogue is more intense than others. Either way, the learning takes place right here, through conversation, argument, guidance, misunderstanding, to that transcendent moment when the light dawns and nothing is the same.
“What was the value of a student’s having to—with some assistance from the teacher—try a subject that was important to him or her, and then finding out how to work on it and put it together? It was a wonderful way of producing a kind of self- reliant, self-directed person, which was certainly the aim of a Sarah Lawrence education: to recognize individual differences, but also put very important emphasis on the development of responsibility, which corresponded not to meeting external requirements, but to discovering motivations that a student could identity with.”
Charles Trinkaus, History Faculty 1936-1970
“You talk to students and, after a while, you stop thinking of them as students—that is, as undergraduate students to whom you catered, to whom you had to talk down, etc. But, after a while, like they were friends of yours. Then, you found you were getting into depth in conferences, discussions. I would leave a conference and think, ‘My God, I don’t enjoy as much talking to fellow anthropologists as I do my students!’”
Irving Goldman, Anthropology Faculty 1947-1981
“ Some viewed [Sarah Lawrence] as being ‘too wild’ But I would prefer the call of the wild to the timid voice of convention.” —James Zito
“I had a conversation with a colleague, just before I came here, about a certain university where the idea of the teacher was conventional and where they tended to denigrate eccentricity. They viewed [Sarah Lawrence] as being ‘too wild.’ But I would prefer the call of the wild to the timid voice of convention. And I think this is one of Sarah Lawrence’s greatest advantages over what might be called the ‘establishment’ point of view: We have as many points of view as we have people or teachers or students.”
James Zito, Literature Faculty 1964-1981
“Conferences demand a special kind of intensity, the capacity to listen both to what is being said and to what is not being said, to catch the color and tone of discourse as well as the intellectual content, and to intervene in the movement of a student’s ideas at the right moment.”
Ilja Wachs, Literature Faculty 1965-present
“The individual conferences were used less for ‘How are you getting along? What is not working for you?’—though a certain amount of time, of course, was given to that as well, as always. But, ‘What would you specifically like to read? What direction would you like to take your study on your own?’ One day, I don’t know what got into me, I looked at the student and said, ‘Well, maybe you’d be interested in the Eskimos.’ And a light shot across the face facing me, and she said, ‘Oh! But I would!!’ And to my horror I had to realize that I knew nothing about the Eskimos. But, of course, I would not confess this to the enthusiastic student and I said, with no doubt a quivering voice, ‘Well, alright, then we will investigate the Eskimos.’”
Bessie Schönberg, Dance Faculty 1937-1972
“It’s very, very important to me to have nothing but small classes and particularly to have all those individual conferences. And I really can’t imagine teaching without that! It was something that I fell into very easily.”
Jane Cooper, Writing Faculty 1950-1987